Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Continuous Tenses

Present Continuous
One of the features of the English language is that there are two sides to every tense: a simple one or a continuous one (also known as progressive). The question is when do you use one and not the other? We've looked at the Progressive Forms in general in the story entitled: Going, going, gone! and at the Present Simple in particular in the story called: It never gets you anywhere and now it's the turn of the Present Continuous/Progressive and this is called: What a Performance! which has a double meaning because it can describe a performance in the theatre and it can also describe a long and complicated process. I only hope when you are reading it, that you don't find it too complicated.

"What a Performance!"
I can't myself. Well, I just couldn't get up on the stage and take part in a play. Some people are always doing that. They do it for a hobby and are never happier than when they are declaiming other people's lines in front of a live audience. They are living in a realm of fantasy. They belong to that select world called amateur dramatics, a world that once a year invades the town where I live. Just when the weather is getting warmer the festival of amateur drama comes to our local theatre. For one entire week three separate groups are performing one play each every evening. In one mad moment a few years ago I agreed to buy a season ticket to see the different productions for all six nights and ever since then each year I get this very correctly written letter beginning: 'I am writing to inform you that the Summer Festival of Drama is taking place….'

Yesterday was the last night. Today I am resting. I am being perfectly serious. Although each play is around 35 minutes long, there have been 18 of them in all – tragedies, farces, melodramas, theatre of the absurd, of the ridiculous and of the 'How much longer is this going on?' The last category is my own personal classification for the really boring ones. And there was one play that could have won a prize for that category. When the curtain goes back, three people are sitting in deck chairs and eating ice creams. For about ten minutes nobody says a word. The audience is feeling a little embarrassed by this time and then suddenly one of the three starts shouting at the audience: 'Why are you all sitting there and staring at us?' This is a question I asked myself several times during the week! Of course nobody knows what to say. More questions followed, which were not answered. Then there was another pause, then more questions and then they went back to eating their ice creams and that was the end. The old lady next to me was utterly confused. 'Excuse me, she said. 'my deaf aid isn't working properly tonight and I'm hoping to buy a new one soon. Consequently I'm not hearing very well at the moment. Did I miss anything? I laughed and assured her that she hadn't.

But then I suppose I am being a little over critical. There were some really good performances as well – the ones that make you forget that you are sitting in the theatre. The one I liked best was a comedy. The play opens in a park. A couple are sitting on a bench and they are having an argument. He is trying to persuade her that he is right and she is doing her best to make him believe that he is wrong. It doesn't sound all that funny but the dialogue was so clever and the two performers are so obviously relishing their roles that the whole audience couldn't stop laughing. But then of course if you get bored with the play, you can always turn your attention to the audience. And with a season ticket you keep sitting next to the same people, which is how I got into trouble on the last night. You have to imagine it is 8 o'clock. Everyone is sitting quietly and waiting for the curtain to go up. The old lady in the next seat is adjusting her hearing aid. The fanfare is playing and then – nothing happens. Ten minutes go by. The audience is becoming distinctly uncomfortable. Comments like: 'What on earth is going on?' 'Are we seeing another play?' and 'Is anybody doing anything about it?' The fanfare is playing again. I get the impression that someone is tapping my knees but then I realise that it's the woman in front who is fidgeting. Again there is silence and then the curtains open at last to reveal a worried looking manager who is standing in the middle of the stage. 'Ladies and gentleman', he began 'I regret to tell you that the Sanderson Players are not performing tonight. There will now be a short intermission.' It was then I said to my elderly neighbour in I suppose a rather loud voice (but you must remember she is having a problem with her hearing): 'Thank goodness! That's one less to worry about.' At that the woman in front who I thought had been fidgeting and had in fact been crying, turned round and addressed me in a hysterical way: 'Do you know who you are talking to and who you are talking about?' I pleaded ignorant to both questions. 'They are my entire family – husband, son and two daughters and they are all suffering the other side of that curtain.' I was impressed with her delivery and thought what a performance she could give as a Shakespearean heroine. I made apologetic noises and decided not to probe further. The rest of the evening passed off without incident and the prizes were distributed.

So after the long week and the little bit of drama in row K I hope you can understand why I am now relaxing. I'm not attending next year's festival. I've decided. I'm doing something a little more dynamic like bungee jumping or white water rafting. Incidentally in case you are wondering what the woman in front was on about, I'll explain. The whole family in the Sanderson Players had begged mother not to come to the theatre because she always put them off. She had insisted on coming and so they had refused to perform. If you're wanting to know what the play was about, you must guess it from the title: Mother knows best.

Progressive Forms
In this story you will see many examples of Progressive Verb Forms (also known as Continuous Forms). Here is the structure of the Progressive Forms:
subject + auxiliary verb (be) + main verb (gerund)

Sometimes a modal verb can be used before the auxiliary verb:

subject + modal verb (could/would/should) + auxiliary verb (be) + main verb (gerund)

There are other structures such as the Present Perfect Continuous:

subject + auxiliary verb (have) + past participle (been) + main verb (gerund)

We use the progressive from when:
  • we want to describe an action that is happing right now
  • we want to describe an action that will be happening in the future
  • we want to describe an activity or process that started in the past and is still going on

Here are some examples:
  • We are reading an interesting story right now.
  • My wife is flying to Madrid tomorrow.
  • My wife would be flying to Madrid tomorrow if she had a holiday.
  • Our partners have been working with us for 10 years now.

Now enjoy the following story and find the progressive forms in italics.
"Going Going Gone!"
Andrew and Daisy Marvell were going to spend another holiday in Majorca. Everyone knew that — the postman knew it, the dustman knew it and their next door neighbours also knew they would be going there. The simple reason was that they had been going there for their summer holiday for the last twenty-five years.

Most people in Britain are subjected to an endless bombardment of advertisements on television just after Christmas inviting them to book for their summer holiday. The adverts are constantly telling viewers that if they book early, they will save enormous amounts of money but at the same time there is a little voice at the back of peoples' minds that is suggesting to them that there will also be bargains if they wait until the last minute. Habit is a significant factor in all this. You did this last year while you were taking down the Christmas decorations and therefore without realizing it, you will be doing exactly the same this year. You sit back in your favourite armchair and say: «In six months' time I shall be sitting on a sunny beach somewhere and I shall be reading my favourite book.»

The Marvells did not believe in leaving things to chance. They believed in planning. On a winter evening around mid-January in the Marvell household the following would be a typical conversation: "Are you thinking, what I'm thinking Daisy?" — "I'll tell you what I'm thinking: I'm dreaming of my summer holiday at the moment in a lovely warm place, And." She was being very romantic when she called him "And". "And, And (this was Daisy's sense of humour) where will you be taking your holiday this summer?" — "I was thinking perhaps we might try Majorca, it's said to be very pretty."

At this stage of the conversation there would be the sound of screams of laughter and the following day Andrew usually booked the holiday. The next-door neighbours, the long-suffering Nortons, heard the laughter too, turned to each other and said: "They're obviously making arrangements to go to Majorca again."

When Andrew finished work that Monday and was walking down the high street to the station to get his train home, he decided to call in at the travel agents to make his booking. When he reached the door, it didn't seem to open in the usual manner. In fact to his surprise it opened outwards instead of inwards. He ought to know, he thought, he'd been pushing and not pulling it several times a year over the last twenty-five and he usually went to young Jack (now old Jack) who'd been working there over the same period of time. The layout was different, too. Something strange was happening and poor Andrew couldn't make it out. There was the smell of damp and hot hair. "Can I help you, sir?" asked a young woman in a white overall. — "I've been coming here for the last twenty ..." Andrew's jaw dropped. For a moment he thought he was standing in the wrong shop, dashed outside and then came back in again. Maybe he was dreaming but then it dawned on him, the travel agents had gone and been replaced by a hairdressers. The woman explained: "We opened last week and are opening another new premises by the park next month. The travel agents have been experiencing a difficult time this year. They weren't getting their regular customers." Andrew just couldn't handle it. If Daisy were here, she would be feeling the same. He tried to picture how he would be explaining it to her. What would she be doing right now at home? She would probably be preparing the supper and expecting to see the receipt for the booking as he came through the door. What could he do? He was in a hairdressing salon and it was a uni-sex one as well! He didn't know what to do, where to look.

When Andrew eventually reached home about two hours later, Daisy was speaking on the phone. She had been going frantic trying to find out what had happened to Andrew. As she was watching him come through the door, she couldn't believe it was him. He looked about 20 years younger. Apparently he had been persuaded to stay on at the salon and have his hair done. He had seriously been considering having something done for some time and the young woman in the white overall had convinced him that he should experience all the facilities on offer. It wasn't long after that when Daisy gave the salon a try, too. Within three months Andrew and Daisy had become very important customers. It wasn't cheap of course but both their heads were immaculate and they were enjoying the appreciative comments from friends and colleagues including of course the postman, the dustman and the next door neighbours. Normally at this time of year they would have been saving hard and putting money aside for the holiday in Majorca but that topic was not being discussed at the moment. As the weeks went by they both became very friendly with the young woman in white called Angela and on one of their regular visits she told them:

"I'm running a raffle to mark our first 100 days at the salon that's how long we'll have been doing business by the end of this week and I was wondering whether you would like to buy some tickets." Anxious to keep in favour they paid up, bought six tickets and thought no more about it. About a month later when they arrived at the salon, Angela was waiting for them at the door excitedly waving an envelope. "They've just been doing the draw and you've won first prize." As Daisy was casually opening the envelope she half expected to have won a set of hairbrushes or a bottle of champagne. As she read the note, a strange smile was beginning to cross her face. "We're going on holiday And!" — "Oh, yes that's nice dear and where are we going?" — "Somewhere called Majorca, dear." — "Ah well, said And that'll keep the postman, the dustman and the neighbours happy.

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